Economic Development, Government, and Sustainability

Economic impact of river restoration coming

But an endangered species found in the Grand may alter the project's course.

December 15, 2012
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Economic impact of river restoration coming
The proposed Grand River restoration would cover more than 1,300 acres along the river’s downtown path and create two new riverside parks. Photo by Michael Buck

Right now, the economic impact that would come from restoring the rapids in the Grand River, as Grand Rapids Whitewater is passionate to do, isn’t fully known. More information, however, may be coming in the near future.

What is known now is the restoration would cover 1,310 acres along the river’s downtown path and create two new riverside parks and four acres of forest land. There would be a 400-meter canoe slalom course and a 2.5-mile stretch for paddlers and rowers.

All of these features are expected to increase tourism, provide more recreational activities for residents and create new opportunities for businesses and employment. What is missing are the numbers that represent what the $27 million project would yield in economic activity over the course of, say, 10 years.

Wendy Ogilvie of Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber, a local engineering and environmental remediation firm that has been working on the project for more than a year, shed some light on the missing link. She said the plan is to conduct at least one economic impact study and possibly more.

“Hopefully, we’ll be getting some money soon to do some of these economic studies,” she recently told the Grand Valley Metro Council.

Ogilvie said there are a number of constraints with the restoration project, but FTCH is dealing with them on a one-by-one basis. A recent discovery, however, may become more of an obstacle than a constraint: A freshwater mussel called the snuffbox has been found in the river. Ogilvie said the good news is that means the river is clean.

“The city has spent millions to improve the river. The water quality is great. It’s not a sewer anymore,” she said. If it still was a sewer, the snuffbox couldn’t survive because pollution and an excess of sedimentation can suffocate a snuffbox.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported the snuffbox was named an endangered species in February, giving the mussel full protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. The ESA provides protection against practices that kill or harm the snuffbox and requires planning for recovery and conservation.

Ogilvie said her firm is conducting some additional studies and surveys to improve the restoration model, which she felt already is a good one. “The (Sixth St.) dam right now is a barrier,” she said. “But it’s not a major barrier.”

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